Former President Trump asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to keep in place a temporary hold on the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of his alleged mishandling of classified documents, arguing the stay is necessary to avoid “chaos.”
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon last week temporarily halted the Justice Department’s probe while a special master she appointed reviewed all 11,000 documents seized from Mr. Trump’s residence at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The special master, U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, is reviewing the documents for any documents protected by executive or attorney-client privilege, which would mean they would be off limits to investigators.
Judge Cannon also paused the investigation for Judge Dearie to complete his task, which has a Nov. 30 deadline.
The Justice Department said that delay is unacceptable and on Friday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to lift Judge Cannon’s restriction, saying the investigation must continue while the special master does his job.
In a court filing Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s legal team said the delay is necessary. They cited a lack of transparency from the government. They depicted the investigation as a “document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control.”
Mr. Trump’s lawyers called the delay, “a sensible preliminary step toward restoring order from chaos.”
“The government’s attempt to shield the purportedly classified documents from the ambit of a Senior United States District Judge who served for seven years on a court dealing with the most sensitive national security matters, therefore, illustrates precisely why the District Court found a special master was appropriate and necessary under the circumstances,” they wrote.
Mr. Trump’s team also continued to suggest that the documents seized in the Aug. 8 raid had been declassified but offered no evidence that the former president had done so before leaving office.
While the Justice Department has argued that the government should presume the documents under review are classified, Mr. Trump’s lawyers said the government has not presented evidence the documents are classified.
The latest Trump filing also underscored his authority as president to declassify records, urging the court to consider the seized materials status as ambiguous.
“The government again presupposes that the documents it claims are classified are, in fact, classified and their segregation is inviolable. However, the government has not yet proven this critical fact,” the filing said.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed in media interviews that the declassified documents moved from his White House to his Florida residence. His attorneys, however, have suggested that is the case, but have stopped short of explicitly saying so.
Later Tuesday, the special master will hold a preliminary conference with Mr. Trump’s legal team and Justice Department lawyers at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn.